Clothes Make the Man

A sermon on Leviticus 8, 21, and 22 by Coty Pinckney, Community Bible Church, Williamstown, MA, 9/13/98

Do clothes make the man? Are you what you wear?

Some fashion consultants seem to think so.

Consider this statement from an ad on the Internet:

Fashion Tips for Job Interviews
You don't have to have an MBA to strive for that professional look. From MBA Style Magazine, advice on everything from How to Buy an Interview Suit to Undressing for Success: Boxers or Briefs at the Interview. Also learn how to choose a necktie, Select the right shirt or blouse, find the right colors and patterns to wear for an interview and even choose the right socks.

Donít get too hopeful about the quality of that advice: The number one suggestion for men with regard to socks: Make sure they match.

Another internet site puts it this way:

Every time you enter a room you are making a statement : a fashion statement. . . Clothing is image projection.

Pay attention to that last statement: Clothing is image projection.

At one level, we Christians shouldnít be concerned with image projection: Remember when Samuel went to anoint a new king from among the sons of Jesse? The boys parade before Samuel one by one -- the first is the eldest, Eliab. Samuel sees the tall, broad-shouldered, handsome young man and thinks, "Surely, he is the one!" But God says to Samuel:

"Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." (1 Sam 16:7)

As all of Scripture makes clear, God wants our hearts, he wants true devotion; he doesnít want only the appearance of devotion. God doesn't want us only to go through the motions, he doesn't want us simply to appear to belong to him; he tell each of us to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your strength." In that sense, outward appearances donít matter.

But weíve come to a section in Leviticus where God lays out explicit instructions for the clothes of the priests. If Godís primary interest is the condition of our hearts, why does he go to such pains to prescribe clothing?

God cares because "Clothing is Image Projection." God uses the clothing of the high priest to project an image, to project the image of Jesus, to project the image of what each of us should be when we fulfill our priestly roles. So through these clothes, God teaches us valuable lessons about his Son.

So open your Bibles with me to Leviticus chapter 8, so that we can learn about the image God projects through the priestsí clothing. Recall from our discussion last week that God planned from the beginning to create a nation of priests, and that we, the church, are the fulfillment of that plan. Every person saved by the blood of Jesus is a priest, is called to serve as a priest. In this priestly role we have direct access to God the Father, and are called to shine the light of Godís word on the difficult circumstances facing our neighbors in this sin-filled world. Recall also that God alone calls priests; they are not volunteers, responding to Moses' plea for workers.

We'll begin reading in verse 1:

1 ∂ Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,

2 "Take Aaron and his sons with him, and the garments and the anointing oil and the bull of the sin offering, and the two rams and the basket of unleavened bread; 3 and assemble all the congregation at the doorway of the tent of meeting." 4 So Moses did just as the LORD commanded him. When the congregation was assembled at the doorway of the tent of meeting, 5 Moses said to the congregation, "This is the thing which the LORD has commanded to do." 6 Then Moses had Aaron and his sons come near, and washed them with water.

Before we get to the clothing, allow me to make two quick notes.

  1. Weíre going to see strange things in the rest of this chapter; for example, Moses takes blood and puts it on Aaronís right earlobe, and the big toe of his right foot. Moses indicates right here that these are GODís words, Godís commands. None of this originated in Moses' head. God has very specific reasons for all this to take place exactly according to his command.
  2. Second, note that the first item of business is to wash Aaron and his sons. What does this signify?

God prescribes ceremonial washing in many cases in the Law. This stands for the purification from worldly uncleanness, preparing oneself to come before God. The New Testament amplifies this in several places:

In Ephesians 5, while discussing marriage, Paul describes the relationship of Christ to the church. He says:

26 Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her; that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,

God uses His word to sanctify us, to set us apart for His purposes, to wash us and cleanse us, so that we might be what God intends us to be.

Jesus makes a similar statement in his high priestly prayer in John 17:

Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. (verse 17)

Jesus is saying, "Make these my followers holy; set them apart BY YOUR WORD." Once again, Godís uses his word to mark us as his, to make us whole, to transform us into what he intends us to be. God's living and active word penetrates to our very core, sheds light on our failures, an empowers us to lives lives worthy of God's calling.

If we are to be effective in our role as priests, we need cleansing of the word, we need to be set apart, made whole by Godís word living and reigning in us.

Weíll come back to that idea; letís now look at the priestsí clothing:

7 And he put the tunic on him and girded him with the sash, and clothed him with the robe, and put the ephod on him; and he girded him with the artistic band of the ephod, with which he tied it to him. 8 He then placed the breastpiece on him, and in the breastpiece he put the Urim and the Thummim. 9 He also placed the turban on his head, and on the turban, at its front, he placed the golden plate, the holy crown, just as the LORD had commanded Moses.

While the priestís clothes donít make the man, they symbolize what the man should be. Weíll bring out three aspects of this symbolism:

We'll begin by considering the priest's position before God. Scripture consistently uses the image of new clothes provided by God to stand for our righteousness in His eyes.

Consider first Isaiah 61:10

I will rejoice greatly in the LORD, My soul will exult in my God; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness,

Salvation and righteousness are clothes that God provides. And he not only provides them but also dresses us in them.

Recall also Luke 15, the story of the prodigal son. The son tells his father that he wishes the father were dead, takes his share of the inheritance, and squanders it. He becomes destitute, then comes to himself. He returns home, and says, "Father, I have sinned against you and against God; I am no longer worthy to be called your son." But the Father cuts him off, calling out:

"Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet." (22)

The son returns, stinking and in rags. He is not worthy to be treated as a son, and he sure doesn't look or smell like a son! But the Father dresses him! The Father makes clear to all that this is his beloved son. He dresses him in the clothes of the son, showing his acceptance, showing that he is truly a part of the family.

I love the way God uses the "image projection" of clothes in both of those cases. But my favorite example is found in the book of Zechariah, chapter 3. Zechariah has a vision of Joshua, the High Priest, standing in God's presence, but dressed in filthy clothes. And Satan is at Joshua's right hand, accusing him. Perhaps he is saying, "How can you stand here! Look at yourself! You are not worthy to come into the presence of an earthly king -- why do you think you can stand before God? God can have no part of your dirt, of your filth!" Let's read beginning in the third verse:

3 Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments and standing before the angel. 4 And the angel spoke and said to those who were standing before him saying, "Remove the filthy garments from him." Again he said to him, "See, I have taken your iniquity away from you and will clothe you with festal robes." 5 Then I said, "Let them put a clean turban on his head." So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments, while the angel of the LORD was standing by.

Do you catch the image here? Priests must be clothed with Godís righteousness! On our own, we are like Joshua standing before God in filthy garments -- Satan has every right to accuse us because no one dressed like that can approach the king of the universe! On our own, we are like the returning prodigal son: dirty, grimy, smelly, stinking. But when we come with a broken and contrite heart, dirty and smelly as we are, God gives us new clothes, he accepts us to be his priests, he accepts us as his sons, he gives us garments of salvation, priestly garments.

So, first of all, the clothes display our standing before God. Letís turn now to the breastpiece, which displays the priest's responsibility for the people.

There is a lengthy description of this article of clothing in Exodus 28. In that chapter, God explains that the breastpiece is to have twelve precious stones sown into the fabric, representing the twelve tribes of Israel. And the breastpiece is made in such a way that it hangs from the priest's shoulders. Turn to Exodus 28:29:

"And Aaron shall carry the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment over his heart when he enters the holy place, for a memorial before the LORD continually."

Isnít that a powerful image? Whenever the high priest enters the holy place, he carries all the people with him, directly over his heart. He goes into the holy place for them, interceding for them, representing them.

This is first and foremost an image of Jesus -- entering the holy place, coming into Godís presence bearing all of us on his shoulders. He wears us over his heart, over the seat of his love, carrying us into Godís presence, where we could not go without him. And his carrying of us into Godís presence, offering atonement for us, makes us holy and righteous before God.

But the image also is relevant to us in our role as priests. We too must carry others before God, we too must carry others over our hearts as we intercede for them before God. God didnít make us priests only to allow us to stand before him. No! He gives each of us a ministry, so that we might be involved in proclaiming his truths and bringing others before him.

So do you carry others continually before the Lord? Do you care? Do you love?

Note that the breastpiece also includes the Urim and the Thummin. We donít know exactly what these items were, but they were used to provide Godís guidance to the Israelites when they were faced with difficult circumstances. Just so, our priestly ministry includes opening the word of God and applying it to the worldís problems. We are entrusted with Godís wisdom and insight, as laid out for us in Holy Scripture. Here are the answers to the difficult problems of life, the way to true love, true joy and true peace. We offer that to a hurting world in our priestly ministry.

Let us now turn our attention to the turban. Verse 9 reads:

He also placed the turban on his head, and on the turban, at its front, he placed the golden plate, the holy crown

So Moses puts a cloth headpiece on Aaron, and on this he places "a plate, a crown." That is strange; this item is called both a plate and a crown.

Itís interesting to note that there are two primary Hebrew words translated "crown" in the Old Testament. One is a symbol of earthly authority -- this is the word used, for example, for the crown that David takes from the head of a conquered king. David removes the crown from the conquered king's head and puts it on his own. He assumes the earthly authority of that king.

But the more prominent word implies consecration instead of authority, being set apart by God for a sacred task. This is the word used for the crowns of the Israelite monarchs, and this same word is used here for the priest. Thus, "crown" in verse 9 does not symbolize authority so much as it symbolizes Godís setting apart the priest for a special, sacred task.

Exodus 28, once again, provides some additional details that clarify this idea. Consider verses 36 to 38:

You shall also make a plate of pure gold and shall engrave on it, like the engravings of a seal, 'Holy to the LORD.' And you shall fasten it on a blue cord, and it shall be on the turban; it shall be at the front of the turban. And it shall be on Aaron's forehead, and Aaron shall take away the iniquity of the holy things which the sons of Israel consecrate, with regard to all their holy gifts; and it shall always be on his forehead, that they may be accepted before the LORD.

This passage makes clear that the gold crown was not circular in shape, but was indeed a flat plate. It was a sign of Aaronís holiness, of his consecration to God -- and, just so no one would make any mistake about that, the engraving on the front reads, "Holy to the Lord!" "Holy to the Lord!" This statement was always on his forehead when he was acting out his priestly role.

Imagine yourself with those words on your forehead. Everyone you encounter sees on your forehead, "Holy to the Lord."

I have news for you: You do have those words written on your forehead! When you claim to be a Christian, you are proclaiming that you are set apart by God, that you are empowered by God for a sacred task, that you are Godís agent and representative in this world. "Holy to the Lord!"

You are a priest before God -- so you are Holy before him. How should you then live?

Here we come to the third truth symbolized by the priests' clothes. We have seen how the clothes symbolize the position of the priest before God; He gives us new clothes so we, like Joshua, can ignore Satanís accusations and stand accepted before God.

Second, we have seen how the breastpiece symbolizes our responsibility before men, the ministry that God gives us to shine the truth of His word on this hurting world, and to carry the needs of the people before God.

But the clothes also symbolize our need for practical holiness, our need to have our inner righteousness before God shine forth in the character of our lives. Indeed, we will be ineffective in our ministry to others unless we show this type of character in our daily life.

For every Christian is called to serve as a priest; but, unfortunately, not every Christian is qualified to serve as a priest. We are all, figuratively, sons of Aaron and thus called by God to the priesthood; but some of us live in such a way that we can have no effective ministry -- our lives invalidate the word of God.

Chapters 21 and 22 of Leviticus elaborate on this point -- the practical holiness necessary for an effective ministry. We find the theme of these two chapters in 21:6, which reads

They shall be holy to their God and not profane the name of their God, for they present the offerings by fire to the LORD, the bread of their God; so they shall be holy.

Note that this verse tells us that priests have two tasks: the task of showing the importance of Christís death to the world ("present the offerings by fire"), and the task of feeding continually on Jesus, the bread of life. If we through our lives profane the name of God, if we live lives that are unworthy of this calling, then we will be ineffective and unproductive and unfulfilled in our ministry. But if we take this task seriously, and say to God, "Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to thee," if we offer ourselves to God, and our members as instruments of righteousness, then God will use us to accomplish his purposes -- and we will have a deep-seated excitement and fulfillment in the ministry God gives us.

Weíll only briefly touch on two points from those chapters -- I encourage you to consider them prayerfully as you evaluate the impact of your own priestly ministry. So here are two ways that we can disqualify ourselves from ministry:

First, chapter 21 explains that the priests are to have very limited contact with the dead. Touching the dead made the Israelites unclean until they were purified -- meaning that an ordinary Israelite who had touched a dead person could not even enter the tabernacle until after his purification. But a priest was not to touch the dead at all, except for the closest of relatives. He was not even to touch his wifeís dead body.

What relevance is this to us today? Clearly the specific instruction no longer holds; what is its symbolic significance?

I would like to suggest with Ray Stedman that touching the dead signifies our operating "in the flesh," our attempting to fulfill our priestly ministry by our own power, using worldly methods. This is deadly to our ministry. When we try to accomplish Godís purposes by our own power instead of relying on him -- when we depend on ourselves instead of the power of the Holy Spirit working in us, when we use worldly techniques to attract people to Christ -- we invalidate our ministry. Oh, we may "succeed" in getting people to come to our event or our church, but in the end we will accomplish nothing of spiritual significance.

How many Christians and Christian ministries have fallen prey to this trap! So much of the church today is involved in worldly techniques, from ways we raise money to ways we try to attract people to church. We provide entertainment instead of the unadulterated word of God; we water down our message so that we donít offend, yet somehow think that that watered down message will save people.

In our personal lives, we face the same temptations. We think that by OUR energy and OUR power and OUR hard work that we will accomplish Godís purposes. We donít see results so we try harder and harder -- to no avail.

Jesus says: "Apart from me you can do nothing." Apart from Him and his power, we can accomplish exactly nothing of lasting significance.

Donít disqualify yourself from your ministry. Donít depend on the flesh.

The second way we can disqualify ourselves from ministry is found in 21:16-24. No priest with a physical defect is to approach the Lord. Those with defects were still sons of Aaron and thus could feed on the priestly food, but they could not minister in the tabernacle.

Again, we know that the specific restriction no longer holds; there is now no earthly tabernacle, and the truths of the gospel message are available to all people, whether or not they have physical defects. So what is the spiritual significance of this restriction?

Through these physical defects, God is picturing the spiritual defects that keep us from having an effective ministry.

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity (Hebrews 5:12-6:1)

Let us all press on to maturity. Don't be satisfied with being a spiritual midget. Become what God intends you to be. Step out in faith.


So do clothes make the man? Well, Iíd agree with the advice to make sure your socks match. But in the end our outward appearance matters little. God looks at our hearts.

But God commands that his Israelite priests dress in a certain way -- and the priestsí clothing projects a rich image, teaching us an abundance of spiritual truth. We have considered three of these truths:

We are righteous before God -- our position is secure;

We are called to a ministry -- bearing the people on our shoulders, shining the light of God's truth on the world around us;

We are called to practical holiness -- living lives worthy of Godís calling, depending on his strength alone to accomplish his purposes.

Every Christian is called to be a priest -- but many of us are not effective priests. We are overwhelmed with work, we complain about our opportunities to serve, we chafe at being different from others. If that is true of you, then Iíve got news for you: You are called to be a priest, but you have disqualified yourself. You will have no effective ministry, you will have no joy in ministry, until you follow Godís plan for the priesthood.

But if you accept this calling, if you consecrate yourself fully to Godís plan for your life, if you continually offer yourself as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to Him -- then you will find intense joy and excitement in ministry. For God has a plan for you, God made you for this very purpose, God put you here in Williamstown to show his love and his wisdom to particular persons. You have on your forehead the words HOLY TO THE LORD -- and you are Holy for a specific purpose. Opening up the word of God and applying Godís solutions to the problems faced by all of our neighbors is the most exciting task imaginable -- for only in His word are solutions found; only through this word can we find true love, joy, and peace.

So where are you? How do the priestly clothes fit?

Let us close by singing three verses from the hymn, "Take My Life and Let it Be."

Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee.
Take my moments and my days; let them flow in ceaseless praise.

Take my hands and let them move at the impulse of thy love.
Take my feet and let them be swift and beautiful for thee.

Take my will and make it thine; it shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart; it is thine own. It shall be thy royal throne.

This sermon was preached at Community Bible Church in Williamstown, MA on 9/13/98. I decided to preach a series of sermons on Leviticus after reading Ray Stedman's series, which is available at the PBC web site. I am heavily indebted to him both for his insights into Leviticus, and for all I learned about expository preaching from him. The statement that our churches are filled with spiritual dwarfs is taken directly from his sermon.

Copyright © 1998, Thomas C. Pinckney. This data file is the sole property of Thomas C. Pinckney. Please feel free to copy it, but only in its entirety for circulation freely without charge. All copies of this data file must contain the above copyright notice.

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